Posts by slapin

Jury Duty

June 22nd, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

I am not sure that I was entirely truthful earlier this week. I’m not sure that anyone else with me in the room was either.

We were together in a courtroom, having been chosen as the pool from which a jury would be selected. The presiding judge asked a series of questions. For each question, if our answer was a yes, we were told to stand up and then he went around the room asking for our juror number, which he jotted down.

Some of the questions were straightforward. Was anyone not a citizen of the United States or not a resident of the city?  Then, after being asked to listen to a long list of police officers’ and detectives’ names, we were asked if we knew any of the aforementioned  people.  But some of the questions were trickier.

We were asked if we would give more or less credence to the testimony of a member of law enforcement than we would to anyone else. That was one of the ones that perplexed me. I was raised to respect the police and still do, but at the same time I also am aware of corruption on the force, including tampering with evidence. Depending on the impression made by an officer, I might give either more or less weight to his or her words than to someone else’s. As far as I was concerned, there really wasn’t enough time to think through the complexity of the question.

Then, the accused violent offender was asked to stand. We were asked if anything about her appearance might prejudice us. I’m pretty sure that most of us weren’t truthful about this question; only two people rose to say yes. The fact is that we humans are incredibly susceptible to people’s looks. I didn’t rise to my feet, not because I didn’t feel myself getting a first impression (and those do have a lasting impact) but because I didn’t want to offend some of the people around me who would make their own guesses and judgments about why I was answering yes, and possibly be hurt by what their guess of my reasoning was.

And so on and so forth. The experience was both uplifting and depressing. It was heartening to see so many people assemble and take their civic duty seriously. It was depressing to feel how overburdened and sluggish the legal system is. It was uplifting to see an extremely diverse group of hundreds of potentials jurors treating each other with respect and courtesy.  It was distressing to think how badly national, statewide and local politicians and educational elites run things, helping to ensure a steady stream of young, violent offenders.

I was not chosen for the trial, for which I am grateful. While I appreciate the concept of being tried by a jury of your peers, I’m not sure that is what actually takes place or that justice is best being served.

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What do the Hebrew words for law and compassion tell us?
Can it change the way we deal with students, employees, politicians and children?
Don’t let English translations limit your understanding.

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Having it All

June 15th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 42 comments

I got a lovely Mother’s Day card from one of my daughters that brought tears of joy to my eyes, but it also highlighted one of the enemies of successful living.

Among other sweet words, she wrote, “I am only now starting to realize how much of your own life and time and personal pursuits you must have sacrificed to raise us…”

The gratitude is appreciated and the sentiment is lovely. It is also wrong.  It is wrong, not only in terms of motherhood but also in terms of marriage, work and life.

My husband and I once sailed in the Caribbean. When we visited one island, the dock was not only extraordinarily narrow but also in ill repair. It shifted and rocked with each step we took. Being six months pregnant and not quite as nimble as usual, that posed a challenge. What made it even more worrying were the sharks swimming beneath the dock. Falling in the water was not really an acceptable option.

Imagine that there had been magnificent flower beds surrounding the dock instead. I would never have wanted to fall into them, crushing the beautiful blossoms. But my thought process would have been entirely different. I would have taken the same care walking as I did on the shark-surrounded dock, but instead of fear, pleasure would have been my companion.

Teachers often want their students to remain silent when walking down the hall. I once watched two first-grade teachers prepare their students for a trip past several other classrooms on their way to the music room. Neither teacher wanted her group to be disruptive. One teacher spoke about how important it was not to interrupt the other classes and how proud she would be if her students walked in a quiet and orderly fashion, two by two.

The other teacher spun a story, leading her students to picture that they were explorers going through the woods to spy on an enemy camp. One sound and they might be captured!

Both groups were quiet. First graders want to please their teachers. But the second group’s faces were filled with expectation and joy. They weren’t behaving well; they were having an adventure.

Our attitude towards what we are doing makes all the difference. Despite what my daughter wrote, I did not sacrifice to raise my children. That was my chosen vocation and the normal and inevitable consequence was that I had less time and energy for other activities. As a human being living in a world with 24 hours in a day, I can’t do everything and be everywhere. Among my friends I number social workers, CEOs, accountants, teachers, doctors and pilots. The same calculus applies to them.

There were days while my children were young when I couldn’t see how I could possibly cope for five more minutes. I distinctly remember hiding behind some dresses in my closet to steal just a few minutes of quiet.   When I got married I could have chosen a professional business path.  I could have had fewer children. I could have paid others to care for my children. I had the option of paying tuition at a private school or using the public schools rather than homeschooling as we did. I even could have walked out on my family, unshackling myself from my obligations and responsibilities. Would that have gotten me “all”?

Did I sacrifice by staying in my marriage and devoting myself to my family? Not at all. I made choices and reaped the benefits from those choices, while paying the associated costs. That is called reality.

It’s easy to imagine the life that we did not  choose through rose colored glasses. We picture that other us as an executive wearing expensive, tailored clothing and jetting off to exotic vacation locales. We see ourselves saving lives as a surgeon or being feted as teacher of the year.  Yet, somehow, we never picture ourselves as a bored lower level employee struggling to make ends meet or as an executive cowering in the ladies room steeling herself to fire an employee she likes.  Nor do we picture ourselves as someone earning a great living and relishing the challenges and successes of her career who frequently has to force a smile while yearning to be home with her child or having more energy to devote to her marriage.

There is no job, career, vocation or life that has only sunshine. It is up to us to focus on the positives in the life we choose rather than focusing on those things that our choice excluded. Our attitude, not our reality, decides whether we are sacrificing ourselves or finding fulfillment.

A culture of entitlement bombards us. It is a culture that breeds envy, resentment and unhappiness. I find it amusing that the first person recorded who said he “had it all,” meant it in an entirely different way than we use the phrase today. In Genesis 33:11, Jacob asks his wealthier, stronger and more established brother Esau to accept his gifts, claiming that he, Jacob, has ‘everything.’  By objective standards, he certainly didn’t. In fact, he was fleeing from one home and not sure where he’d end up.

He was focused on what he did have including his relationship with God, his family and the ability to choose how to lead his life. Can we realistically ask for more?

So, my darling daughter who is understandably sometimes overwhelmed by her busy household. Don’t think in terms of sacrifice. Think of the life you have chosen and been granted; a husband, children, extended family, community and faith. Even when it is at its least attractive, acknowledge that you would choose it again. Take a minute to breathe, shed a few tears if you need to, but still be grateful for your life and know that the only way to “have it all,” is to choose that frame of mind. With a nod to the American poet, Robert Frost, we all face many roads that diverge in a wood, and how we think about the one we choose makes all the difference.

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Hebrew is different than any other language.
When you read important words backwards they often yield the opposite idea.
What’s the opposite of ‘family’? Freedom. If you worry that sounds negative, read more in

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“There is nothing better than reading through a book and seeing what your Dad thought was important, and then really understanding where your Dad’s ideas came from. And of course, when your Dad is Zig Ziglar, it is even better.”

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A Peek Behind the Ivanka and Jared Curtain

June 7th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 71 comments

Shelves in my local library are filled with fictional books set in Amish communities. Considering that there are only about 250,000 Amish in North America, they are way over represented in current literature. I confess to enjoying many of these books. I am obviously not the only one to feel that way. Why are so many of us fascinated by foreign cultures?

Partially because we enjoy peering into the lives of people who live among us but who follow intriguingly different paths.

I am far more cautious about non-fiction. Once, while traveling through Utah, I noticed a book written by a woman who grew up in the Latter Day Saint community but was no longer a part of it. Before purchasing it, I checked with the store owner that it was a loving and respectful depiction rather than a vengeful attack. It was. Every community has its warts, but there is a difference between acknowledging those and distorting the truth in a mission to magnify the negatives of a lifestyle that is a blessing to many.

Books abound about the Orthodox Jewish community. Since I know this community rather well, I am more critical about these books. Actually Orthodox Jews comprise a broadly defined group consisting of dozens of sub-communities, all of which enjoy their own small theological and behavioral distinctions. Sometimes I spot foolish inaccuracies by authors whose research was inadequate; other times the author has a hostile agenda.   Many of these books do not accurately depict my life but nonetheless are authentic expressions of the author’s community, with its own unique blessings and challenges.

This brings me to Ivanka and Jared (Trump) Kushner. They are conspicuously visible while openly identifying as Orthodox Jews. The few times that they have traveled with the President by car or plane on the Sabbath has made national news in a way that I find misleading and confusing. Within the larger Jewish community, their actions spark loud controversy. Since many of my readers are interested in Jewish life, I thought you might enjoy getting a bit of an inside look as to what is  actually taking place.

First, the confusing terminology:  I’m reading in the press is that the couple got a ‘dispensation’ to travel by car or plane, an activity that is forbidden on Shabbat. That language makes me smile.  I grew up a block from a convent, a Catholic Church, and a Catholic school. To my understanding, dispensation is a Catholic term. There is no such thing in Judaism.

There is also no pope in Judaism. There is no single ultimate Jewish authority who has the universally accepted final word.  Broadly speaking, Orthodox Jews voluntarily choose to align with a specific stream of Orthodoxy, each of which has its own leaders. On broad issues these leading rabbis often make decisive statements.  On most questions individual rabbis have tremendous autonomy and people have the choice whether or not to follow their views.   Jews whose spiritual roots are in one Orthodox community would not rely on a ruling by a rabbi from another branch and vice-versa.

Ideally we each accept one leader as our own rabbi and when questions arise, this is the figure to whom we turn and whose guidance we accept. The relationship is by necessity a personal one as many questions can only be answered on a personal level – one can never apply an answer given to one specific person to any other person. For example, while there is no question that pork is not kosher, questions arise all the time about more nuanced kosher questions. Many factors are taken into account when answering these questions including how much of a financial loss is entailed if the item isn’t kosher, quantities of ingredients involved and the chemical composition of the utensils used in cooking. The more unique and personal the question is, the more individually nuanced is the answer.  I have watched my husband and father-in-law spend innumerable anguished hours trying to find the correct conclusion to a difficult question that was posed to them.

Ivanka and Jared, like all Jews, have the option to choose the rabbi they want to follow. Once they ask him a question, they not only may listen to him but they should listen to him. They have the responsibility of asking someone whose authority they verify and trust and he has the responsibility of doing all the necessary research, consulting with those more learned than he, and reaching a conclusion on whatever question he was asked. Another rabbi may indeed have come to a different conclusion. God is the final judge. It is in His hands to react in this world or the next one. There is no room for human backseat driving by those who don’t know all the facts.

Sabbath observance is a basic tenet of the Torah. It is the 4th Commandment and a huge deal. However, there are sometimes competing obligations. For example, our son was born on the Sabbath. We drove to the hospital because from the moment I went into labor I was in a special category.  Since the chances of having a baby on Shabbat are pretty high, my husband and I had, in advance, asked our rabbi all sorts of questions including things such as whether we should be driven by a non-Jew and how to handle documents the hospital would require us to sign. The Israeli military deals with questions of Shabbat all the time as do many Jewish medical professionals.

Jared and Ivanka’s situation is unusual.  The president of the United States whose actions could have enormous impact, depends upon them.  It appears that they asked a certain rabbi for guidance and were told that the competing obligations in their case indicated that they should prioritize the need to drive or fly above Orthodox Shabbat observance.  They would probably also have been advised on how to do what they had to do in ways that minimized the extent of Sabbath violation.  There is no assurance that another rabbi would have responded in the same way but since only their rabbi was in possession of all the facts, anyone else’s view is largely irrelevant.  In following their rabbi’s guidance, they have acted in accordance with Orthodox Jewish tradition.  Furthermore, it is nobody else’s business.

Except that it is. Since Sinai, Jews have made huge sacrifices to observe Shabbat.  During the first part of the 20th century, Jews were routinely fired from their jobs for not showing up on Saturday. The accepted work week for those with limited English, no connections and poor or uncredentialed skills was Monday through Saturday.  For Sabbath observant Jews, losing job after job sometimes meant watching their children not have enough to eat. Sadly, they sometimes were even fired by secular Jewish employers and pressured to lower their standards by relatives struggling to survive.

Even today, observing Shabbat often comes with professional and financial sacrifice. Yes, God is the final arbiter of success and amazingly frequently people overtly see the ‘payback,’ but in our human terms there is a cost. Exceptionally faithful Jews struggled mightily to observe Shabbat to the best of their ability in Nazi concentration camps and in the Soviet Gulag. Stories of Shabbat loyalty under punitively oppressive circumstances have been passed down from one generation to the next for many centuries.

For this reason, the Kushners’ behavior has evoked an emotional reaction from some Jews. Much of this has come from Jews who ignore Shabbat and who hate President Trump and everything about him.  No attention ought to be paid to these individuals.  There are others who are Shabbat observant but who care more about hating the president than about Torah values.  Their criticisms of the Kushners should also be ignored. Finally, there are those who try mightily to observe the Shabbat and holy days and who have endured excruciatingly difficult conversations with and/or repercussions from bosses, clients, teachers and non-religious family members who object to their religious commitment.  These Jews feel that Jared and Ivanka betrayed them by not using their unusual public platform to demonstrate the inviolability  of Shabbat. They worry that they too will be directed to seek a “dispensation” just like the Kushners.

Knowing many people who have experienced emotionally intense encounters with family, friends and business associates over the Sabbath, I empathize with this concern.  Perhaps sharing the above information might help. What do you think?

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Reading today’s paper without going to the source makes no sense.

Clash of Destiny: Decoding the Secrets of Israel and Islam

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June 4th, 2017 Posted by AAJC Happenings No Comment yet

Memorial Day

May 29th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Wishing all Americans a Memorial Day where we prove ourselves worthy of the sacrifices made so that we can live in freedom.

Stay Awake!

May 25th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 49 comments

In July of 2013, I wrote a Musing where I referenced a book by authors Timothy Daughtry and Gary R. Casselman, called Waking the Sleeping Giant.  Less than a year into a second Obama term, I was disheartened and angry. My anger wasn’t directed at President Obama, Speaker Pelosi or those who voted for them. It was at the Keystone Kops who were running the Republican Party. The book expressed so many of my feelings.

Unfortunately, the Republican leadership didn’t relate to the book’s message, which many others articulated as well. This most recent election revealed a natural consequence of their indifference.  Millions of Americans rejected the party apparatus.  In my mind, President Trump’s election along with that of a Republican Congress was a heaven-sent opportunity—and one that is in danger of being squandered because conservatives and  Republicans are reverting to an old, losing style of behavior.

Shortly after reading Mr. Daughtry’s book, my husband and I met him and we have stayed in touch over the years. He is graciously allowing me to share a recent column he wrote. I think that its message is well worth contemplating.

Trump is not the Real Target; You Are by Timothy Daughtry

As we watch the daily barrage of accusations and innuendo directed against President Trump by the far left, the liberal media, and even some in his own party, those of us who voted to put him in the Oval Office need to remember one crucial point: President Trump is not the real target.  You are.

Even considering his outsized persona and the stunning phenomenon of an outsider who has never held political office winning the presidency against one of the most powerful political machines in American history, the new movement that elected Donald Trump has never been about Trump. In the 2016 election, the “forgotten men and women of America” were hell-bent to send a message to the powerful elites of both parties.

The message was that the Washington elites are serving themselves and their own agenda and ignoring the rest of the nation.  The message was that Washington has become a swamp of corruption and self-serving collusion among powerful interests and that Main Street America is ready to see that swamp drained.

Donald Trump was our messenger.

Because his candidacy was not about Trump the man but Trump the messenger, he was able to withstand the smears and assaults of the Clinton Machine that would have sunk any other candidate.  They siphoned all the way to the bottom of their slime barrel, and still the message prevailed.

That message was simple and grounded in common sense.  No country can survive unless it has control over its borders.  People coming into American should be vetted to make sure that they pose no danger to us.  After eight years of stifling taxes and regulations, we should once again make America a healthy place in which to do business, make products, and create jobs.  Political correctness may seem silly and laughable, but in reality it poses a serious threat to free expression and open exchange of ideas. If it’s terrorism, call it that.  Say what is obvious to our common sense even if it offends the delicate sensibilities of the elite.

Now the denizens of the Washington swamp are sending a message back to the forgotten men and women who voted for Trump and his reforms: “Forget you.”

The leftists who worked to radically transform the nation under Barack Obama are telling us that they hold the reins of power and that we the people don’t run anything.  They are telling us that their agenda will prevail regardless of how we vote or what we want.  They are telling us that they can subvert, attack, and destroy any messenger that we send into their territory.  And feckless leaders in the GOP seem, at best, more afraid of displeasing the Democrats than betraying their own voters, and, at worst, in cozy collusion with the opposition.

What is at stake in the barrage of innuendo, twisted news, and “investigations” is not just the future of the Trump presidency, but the future of the very idea that governmental power rests ultimately on the consent of the governed.

Of course there is much at stake in the actual policy questions facing the country.  But underneath the debates about border security, court appointees, tax and regulatory policy, and so on lies a deeper question that is at the very heart of our system of government: Can the American people still change the direction of the country if we believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction?  Or will the powerful and self-serving elites impose their agenda even when we don’t consent to it?

When the voters put leftists in power, as they did with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the country moves left.  But when voters try to change course, as we did in the elections of 2010 and 2014, the country still careened towards open borders, government control of healthcare, rule by rogue judges, and lawless license for those in the power elite.

And so we went outside the traditional path and elected Donald Trump in 2016.  The liberal news anchors had barely dried their tears after Election Day when the left began to cloud the real meaning of Trump’s election by pushing the bizarre claim that the Russians had somehow hacked the election.

In their gaslighting version of reality, you didn’t really vote to drain the swamp.  You didn’t really vote to secure our borders.  You didn’t vote to repeal and replace Obamacare and put doctors and patients back in charge instead of Washington bureaucrats.  You didn’t vote to restore rule of law and common sense to Washington.  The Russians somehow threw the election to Trump.  You can go back home now and let the experts run things.

It’s swamp gas.  Don’t breathe it.

There is plenty in Washington that merits investigation, from foreign influence through the Clinton Foundation to Obama’s use of intelligence data for political purposes.  Congress has the power to do just that, but we need to give them the will.

Let’s remind our representatives that they might forget us, but we won’t forget them.

Tim Daughtry is a conservative speaker and co-author of Waking the Sleeping Giant: How Mainstream Americans Can Beat Liberals at Their Own Game.  Follow him on Twitter @TCDwriter.

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There will be no Musing next week as we honor and celebrate
the feast days of Shavuot (Pentecost). Our office and store will close from sunset Tuesday night and reopen Thursday night.

For greater insight into what message God gave on Mt. Sinai 3,329 years ago next week, take a look at The Ten Commandments: How Two Tablets Can Transform Your Life

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Adams, Revere and…Trump?

May 18th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 21 comments

One of my lovely daughters just treated me to three glorious days in Boston. Tamara and I immersed ourselves in 18th and 19th century history, wending our way along Boston’s Freedom Trail. I left my computer at home, didn’t access email, and our eyes and ears were tuned to the past rather than the present.

We respectfully stood at the graves of Sam Adams, Paul Revere and Increase Mather. We visualized life aboard the USS Constitution, the battleship nicknamed Old Ironsides, as it faced the British Navy in the War of 1812 and we saw too many names on too many memorials for boys who died fighting America’s wars.

We peered up at murals in the Boston Public Library by artist John Singer Sargent and at the same location smiled at Robert McCloskey’s sketches for his charming book, Make Way for Ducklings.

As we stood at the site of the Boston Massacre and at the location where thousands gathered before the Boston Tea Party, we discussed whether we would have sided with the Loyalists and King George or the rebellious Patriots had we been alive in those tumultuous times. We never came to a conclusion. Would we have wanted to be associated with aristocratic snobs who looked down at us or conversely with those who looted and tarred and feathered their adversaries?

Waiting for my flight home, after three days immersed in the noble, and sometimes ignoble, founding of our country, it was initially somewhat jarring to be surrounded by hysterical and shrill voices projecting from the airport TV screen. Although I wasn’t looking at the monitor, for the hour I sat there waiting for my delayed flight I couldn’t avoid hearing the President’s name repeatedly linked to the words impeachment and obstruction. Partisan people with predetermined conclusions were passionately pontificating about uncertain events.

Generations after a Boston silversmith named Paul Revere copied a propaganda drawing misrepresenting the shooting of colonists at the hands of British soldiers, personalities continue to inflame emotion and incite fervor by bending the truth. Generations after average citizens rose up in anger at an elitist, taxing, ruling class, their descendants continue to demand a more representative government. Generations after families, including that of Ben Franklin, were split apart as members supported different factions, people are finding politics imperiling their most intimate relationships. We can only pray that generations after a group of men with uncommon abilities, principles and courage gathered to form a nation, we don’t seek in vain for their worthy successors.

If you haven’t heard this 2 audio CD set and shared it with everyone of voting age, you should. The promises being made today aren’t new, nor are the dangers facing us. Look to Genesis to reveal the past, present and future.

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Too Sophisticated for Scandal

May 10th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 44 comments

When I was a teenager, I knew my friend Toby’s grandparents as gracious, attractive and generous pillars of the community. When Toby shared their story with me we both thought it highly romantic. It seems that Mrs. D. was engaged to a friend of Mr. D. At the engagement party, Mr. D. came to celebrate with his friend and meet the fiancée. Shortly thereafter my friend’s future grandmother called off her betrothal. In only a few weeks, she announced a new one—to Mr. D.

When one of their children repeated the story on the occasion of Mr. and Mrs. D.’s 50th anniversary, it was indeed a charming tale that brought smiles to their children and grandchildren’s faces. Only years later did I stop to think how upset and worried Mrs. D.’s parents must have been and how painful and embarrassing this was for the jilted groom and his family. The scandalous event probably animated neighborhood gossip for many months. Fifty years down the road revealed a happy end, but at the time it would have been perfectly plausible to see this as a catastrophic and immature infatuation.

What does this have to do with the recent French election?

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Mutilation or Not?

May 4th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 50 comments

This is going to be an incomplete Musing because I am committing to paper thoughts that need to be sharpened and shaped. That, of course, is true of all my Musings.  New information or ideas always abound.   Sometimes a phrase occurs to me that I wish I had thought of earlier.  Yet, this Musing is different because the topic is both difficult and important and I have never seen it discussed elsewhere. So, I am advancing opening thoughts and hope that others will pick up the conversation or point me to articles I have missed on the subject.

The New York Times Health Editor recently suggested that journalists replace the term “female genital mutilation” with “genital cutting.” This seemingly small change strikes me as hugely significant. The New York Times feels that the word “mutilation” is “culturally loaded.” In other words, it implies a negative judgment of a practice that in some cultures is perfectly acceptable (left unstated is that the ‘other’ is Moslem).

Meanwhile, over the years some have urged that male circumcision be called “male genital mutilation” or that the Moslem practice be termed ‘female circumcision’.   The intention here is to insist that circumcision of males and females is identical. In both these cases language is a way to affect perception.

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Miracles Happen

May 2nd, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 1 comment

Sixty-nine years ago, the modern state of Israel was born. The first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, not an overtly religious man said:  “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”  This is as true today as it was in 1948.

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